Catholic Leaders Against Coerced HPV Vaccines

From Catholic Explorer: 


Catholic leaders critical of vaccination coercion

ROMEOVILLE—In early March, legislators in the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives introduced two bills that, if passed, would require all girls entering sixth grade across the state to undergo human papillomavirus vaccinations in an effort to reduce the spread of potentially cancer-causing strains of the sexually transmitted disease.

Catholic Church leaders in Illinois have weighed in on the bills and denounced them because of the moral impact the mandate could have on minor children.

Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June 2006, the vaccine, called Gardasil, protects against four HPV strains that are responsible for 70 percent of fatal cervical cancers and 90 percent of contagious sexually transmitted diseases, according to Curtis Allen, a spokesperson for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Putting the facts into perspective, Allen noted that approximately 20 million Americans, ages 15 to 49 years old, or 15 percent of the overall population are currently infected and an estimated 6.2 million people are newly infected per year. HPV has become the most common sexually transmitted infection in the nation. And about half of those who are infected are sexually active young people, he added.

Since the vaccine is only successful when dispensed prior to infection, the CDC is recommending it be administered to females before they become sexually active. Possible side effects include: injection site pain, fever, nausea, dizziness and fainting. Overall, the drug is "safe and effective," stated Allen.

"There is nothing wrong with the vaccine itself," said Zach Wichmann, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Illinois. In fact, Catholic teachings point out that immunizing is a morally responsible action to safeguard lives and curb the spread of deadly diseases, he said.

Getting this vaccine is not immoral, Wichmann reiterated, mentioning that the virus could be transmitted in monogamous marriages due to a spouse’s exposure prior to the marriage. Rampant threats of sexual assault are another reason that women deserve to be protected from the virus with Gardasil, he said.

On the other hand, mandating that young girls must receive this particular vaccine might send the message that teenage sexual relationships and encounters are acceptable, Wichmann said.

"Parents should be able to decide" about allowing their minor children to undergo the vaccination process, Wichman added.

On behalf of the Catholic bishops in Illinois, CCI issued a statement March 16 that criticizes the two pieces of legislation that would force minors to receive the vaccination.

In the Illinois Senate, SB0010 stipulates that effective Aug. 1, 2011, a female student who is 11 or 12 years old will not be allowed to begin school classes unless she provides adequate documentation to the school that proves she received the HPV vaccine. If passed, the bill would also require the Dept. of Public Health to distribute written information to children and parents about the link between HPV and cervical cancer. These brochures and fliers would also highlight the availability of the HPV vaccine. In addition, the bill provides for an option for a parent or guardian to decline the vaccination on behalf of the child.

Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete, is the lead sponsor of the bill. "We must be proactive in our fight against cervical cancer," she said in a statement about the proposed legislation. "The best methods of prevention are early detection and educating ourselves regarding this life-threatening disease. It is our hope that with proper screening and health information, we can combat this disease which takes almost 4,000 lives per year" in the United States.

Supporters of this Senate bill include: the members of the national Women in Government organization, the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, the Illinois Nurses’ Association and the Illinois chapter of the national Academy of Pediatrics.

A similar piece of legislation is currently being discussed in the Illinois House of Representatives. If passed, this particular bill, HB115, would go into effect at the start of the 2008-2009 academic year.

Nearly 20 representatives are sponsoring this House bill, including Rep. Naomi Jakobson, D-Champaign, and Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago.

This piece of legislation would require the Dept. of Public Health to distribute information on the virus and the vaccine and would allow for parents to opt out of the mandate among other similarities to its Senate counterpart.

"I’m opposed to the mandate of the vaccine," said Rep. Patricia Bellock, R-Westmont. The member of St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Hinsdale stressed that she would continue to vote against the House bill during legislative sessions.

Bellock, a former member of the Cervical Cancer Task Force in Illinois, mentioned that views from physicians about the premature nature of the mandate have spurred her opposition to the bill. "None of the major medical groups support this mandate," she said. She reasoned that education about the risk factors of HPV is needed to help trigger "lifestyle changes" in communities.

Quote: But why should the idea of parental rights stop the almighty state? And why should physicians balking that the whole thing is premature anyway give them any pause? They want to  use your children as guinea pigs; who are you to stop them?

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